There will come a point in time where the Orioles reach the final stages of their extensive organizational rebuild. No longer will their spot at the bottom of the AL East be assumed, and instead serious discussions will take place around the pieces they can add at the trade deadline to put them over the top on their push to the postseason.
This is not that point in time, though. The Orioles own the second-worst record in MLB, and there is little question that they will be sellers by the time July 31 comes around. What is less clear, however, is who on their roster will be made available for trade.
MLB.com ‘s Mark Feinsand laid out the situation surrounding some of the Orioles’ players last week. The guys that would likely land the biggest return, Cedric Mullins and John Means, are reportedly “not expected to be moved.” The O’s asking price for Anthony Santander was said to be “insane,” while a trade involving Freddy Galvis or Trey Mancini is more likely but far from guaranteed.
Trades require both sides to agree that relatively equal value is flowing both ways. That could prove difficult in a move involving someone like Mullins or Means, two high-performing players with oodles of team control, or even Trey Mancini, a defensively-rigid fan favorite that may be worth more to the Orioles than anyone else. The same could even be said for someone like Galvis. With the Orioles lacking advanced shortstop options in their system, it might make more sense to hold onto the veteran infielder rather than dealing him for a meager return.
Nowhere in Feinsand’s piece is mention of lefty reliever Paul Fry. The 28-year-old has emerged as one of Brandon Hyde’s most reliable bullpen options, compiling a 2.18 ERA over 45.1 innings between 2020 and 2021. Fry’s strong performance caused MLB Trade Rumors to posit on his potential market last week.
The appeal for other clubs is obvious. Fry has been extremely effective out of the Orioles bullpen during the last two seasons. The southpaw is currently striking out 13.11 batters per nine innings, an increase from the 11.86 K/9 he posted in 2020, which was a career-high. He is achieving this with the help of a fastball that has added some giddy-up at 93.5 mph, a big jump from the 92.8 mph he averaged last summer. Opposing hitters have struggled to make hard contact, and Fry is yet to allow a home run in 2021.
On top of that, Fry cannot hit free agency for some time. He will be heading into arbitration for the first time this offseason and remains under team control through the 2024 season. If a team were to add Fry, he could become a fixture in their bullpen for years to come.
The Orioles have a recent history of dealing away non-closer relievers with more than one year of control remaining. Just last year, they dealt three of them.
On August 1st, Richard Bleier was sent to the Marlins with 2+ years of team control in exchange for a player to be named later. That player ended up being Isaac De Leon, a teenage infield prospect in the Dominican League.
On August 30th, Mychal Givens was shipped to the Rockies with 1+ year of team control in exchange for infield prospects Terrin Vavra and Tyler Nevin plus a player to be named later, which ended up being outfield prospect Mishael Deson, a teenager in the Dominican League.
Finally, on August 31st, Miguel Castro was traded to the Mets with 2+ years of team control in exchange for pitching prospect Kevin Smith plus a player to be named later (17-year-old Dominican shortstop Victor Gonzalez).
In all likelihood, it would take more than any one of those individual packages for the Orioles to part with Fry at this moment. He is a left-handed pitcher with 3+ years of team control and the ability to get out both right- and left-handed hitters. It’s understandable for the Orioles to ask for the moon. However, that could prove to be the biggest stumbling block en route to a deal.
Relief pitching can be found just about anywhere come trade deadline time. That’s not to say all relievers are equal. They aren’t. But teams often have options and don’t have to sell their top-tier prospects unless they feel they are receiving top-tier bullpen help in return. Fry has been good, but he lacks extensive high-leverage and closer experience. It’s tough to see a team offering a massive haul for his services just yet.
What makes it even tougher is the volatility of relievers. Look at Fry himself. He has been great the last two seasons, and even had a nice debut with the Orioles in 2018, but his 2019 campaign was rough. Over 66 games he posted a 5.34 ERA due to disastrous months of June and August. To this point in his career, 2019 is his only true full season of big league work, and it could serve as a warning to any teams excited about his impressive first couple of months in 2021.
The Orioles are at the same place with Fry as they were with Givens several years ago. They do not have to trade him, and will only do so if they are overwhelmed with an offer. Perhaps that is exactly what happens. What feels more likely, however, is that he remains in an Orioles uniform for the remainder of this year, and his performance influences what sorts of discussions are had on his behalf this offseason.